A recent study from Lancaster University in the UK has concluded that global computing is likely to be responsible for a greater share of greenhouse gas emissions than previously thought and that share is continuing to grow.
Previous calculations of the contributions from information and communications technology (or ICT) estimated that globally it accounts for 1.8 to 2.8% of total emissions. According to the new study, these estimates likely fall short of the sector’s real climate impact because they only show a partial picture.
Prior estimates do not account for the full lifecycle and supply chain of ICT products and infrastructure. They do not include the energy expended in manufacturing the products and equipment, the carbon cost associated with all the components in the products, and the operational carbon footprint of the companies producing those components.
The study argues that the true contribution of ICT to global greenhouse gas emissions could be between 2.1 and 3.9%, which is more than the aviation industry. Furthermore, the study warns that new trends in computing and ICT such as the use of big data and artificial intelligence, the so-called Internet of Things, and the use of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, risk driving further substantial growth in ICT’s greenhouse gas footprint.
It has been a commonly held believe that ICT and computing technologies lead to greater efficiencies across many other sectors, leading to savings in net greenhouse gas emissions. According to the new study, the historical evidence indicates the opposite. ICT has driven wide-ranging efficiency and productivity improvements, but the net result in emissions has been that they have been growing steadily.
Photo, posted March 13, 2018, courtesy of Flickr.